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Ali is an economist and political analyst, working at a private UK-based company. He worked previously at the World Health Organisation and has an MSc in Development Studies from SOAS. You can follow him on Twitter (@alialsaffar).

On Wikileaks and Corruption

An anonymous poster admonished this blog for being “pro-government and pro-Da’wa” for not covering the reactions to the Wikileak release or the Transparency International corruption findings. I am not sure that attack was completely warranted (see Mousa’s latest entry), but these are two topics I have personally been following closely since they broke, and wrote a piece about the Wikileaks for my company, here.

For those who haven’t heard, Transparency International released its latest Corruption Perception Index, a yearly project that attempts to rank all the world’s countries based on how corrupt they are perceived to be. Unsurprisingly,  Iraq ranked 175th out of 178 countries. While I have certain reservations on the methodology TI uses in its study, corruption in Iraq, and perhaps just as important, the perception of corruption in Iraq, is clearly out of hand. Corruption is rampant, and is visible not only in all echelons of government, but also across Iraq’s society.  This obviously has a whole bunch of negative implications; Iraq’s resources are being mis-allocated at a time when ordinary people are screaming out for basic services. It is also keeping businesses away, a recent study carried out by the EIU suggests that corruption was the second most pervasive concern among investors/would be investors doing business in Iraq. What’s more, there seems to be very little being done about it.

A while back, I wrote my Master’s dissertation on the impact of sanctions of Iraq’s society, economy and politics. It became more and more clear to me the more I read that it was that decade, a decade in which Iraq’s middle-classes were virtually destroyed, that has left a legacy that will hinder Iraq’s future development. The imposition of sanctions, and the subsequent pauperisation of vast swathes of Iraqi society led to a change in the moral and ethical outlook of a population who now felt that survival was the key factor behind the decisions they make. Bribes oiled the cogs of virtually every routine service provided by officials, who sought to supplement their paltry salaries through money extracted in corrupt practices…and who can blame them? But it is this particular legacy of the sanctions that has been especially resilient, even to this very day. The roots of corruption, the mindset required for its manifestation and fermentation, have been engrained in the psyche. Cynicism and distrust were the two most necessary traits required for survival during Saddam’s years in power, and they endure to this day. Unfortunately, this cynicism, and the entire ethical code that allowed Iraqis to survive the hardships are the antithesis of what is required to rebuild the country now.

As for the higher-level corruption among government ministers, deputy ministers, director generals etc. I think most of that can be blamed on pure greed. But beyond bureaucratic, financial corruption, the Wikileaks documents really highlighted the level of moral degradation in some of the very officials that are meant to be serving the countries. One case, which really jumped out at me (dated: 2008-02-10 07:49:00) details how a high-level Ministry of Health official, who was himself employed by a Director General at the ministry, was arrested for providing lists of female patients to terrorist groups, who would then recruit these sick women for suicide operations. Its bad enough pilfering funds from ministry coffers, but here, an official that is supposed to be working to improve a dilapidated health infrastructure and the health of Iraqi civilians, is actively seeking to spread terror and destruction, using patients at government hospitals as his weapon. Greed cannot be enough to explain such depravity…surely it points to something much more serious and much more enduring than that.

I should mention, the TI rankings should not be taken as gospel. Ali Mawlawi wrote an excellent piece in Open Democracy on the problems with the way these rankings are compiled. But reservations on the methodology aside, corruption is and endemic problem in Iraq that needs concerted efforts by the government and civil society organisation to be made, targeting government institutions and public perception. But can such an effort be carried out in a political-economic system that that seems to breed patronage and fiefs?

9 Comments on “On Wikileaks and Corruption”

  1. Kamran Karadaghi October 29, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    ‘Change in the moral and ethical outlook of a population’ did not start with the imposition of sanctions. It sarted with the Iraq-Iran War. Sanctions deepened the problem.

  2. Sand Storm October 31, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    First of all: not TI nor WikiLeaks have a solid methodology in the way they conduct their business.

    For some however not mentioning the government or D’awa in a negative way means you are pro government.

    Worse: the outcome of TI or WikiLeaks is wished to be against the gov or Da’wa and not looked at how it would affect the Iraqis in a negative or even positive way.

    So for some the criteria for writing about a topic is how much Maliki and the Iraqi Government will be hurt. What a narrow way of thinking.

    The problem in Iraq has its political roots. A huge part of corruption is a side effect.

    Once the political landscape is clear a large percentage of it will evaporate. The remaining part will have to be tackled by the government and I have confidence that Iraqis will be able to maintain a clean system in the future.

  3. Zaid November 1, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    To be honest, I do feel that this blog does not have enough discussion on the situation of ordinary Iraqis in the country itself. I am suggesting that this means that the blog is pro-one thing or the other. From my perspective however, that is the priority, and should be the essential focus of any writings by Iraqis. If it were up to me therefore, this blog would include more contributions on human rights, essential services, corruption, etc. It doesn’t have to be negative criticism, and could be focused more on possible solutions to these problems. It would be good however if more attention were given to these issues.

    On Ali’s post – thanks. It was very interesting. Once again, from my perspective, this type of discussion is very important. In addition to focus on terrorism, it would be good if more focus were given to what Iraqi officials are up to. Prison conditions, the performance of the judicial system, or the police, etc. are all important given that these people actually work for us and on our behalf.

    • Ali Latif November 6, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

      This blog was never meant to speak for Iraqis in Iraq. It is a blog about Iraqis in Britain. We of course touch upon current affairs in Iraq because it is important to us but ultimately we do not presume to speak for anyone over there. That is why most posts come from a specific UK orientation. We could always ditch the UK thing and talk about the corruption, absurdity and double-standards of Iraq pre- and post-war but that is another discussion altogether.

  4. Zaid November 1, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    Sorry – that should read: “I am NOT suggesting that this meamsthat the blog is pro-one thing or another”.

  5. Mohammad November 3, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    What solutions do you suggest Zaid? You should kick start the party..

  6. Mazin November 3, 2010 at 9:02 pm #

    Why are there are no Iraqi Kurdish writers for example?

  7. Sand Storm November 3, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    Well, I’m a Kurd friend. And it would be really nice to have a Kurdish writer posting here.However I don’t think that the writers have sectarian or national orientations.

  8. Fatema December 1, 2010 at 8:40 pm #

    wikileaks has actually caused a WAKE UP call to anyone who was sleeping
    I hope Iraqis don’t suffer or any other person due to the leak

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